As the summer months wind down, the smell of pumpkin spice and the sight of changing trees seem to be everywhere. A soulful warmth seems to spread as we begin to embrace the brisk breeze. For some, this means plaid shirts, bonfires, and apple orchards. But for others, the change of season means something entirely different.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is caused by the change in seasons. For most, SAD symptoms occur during the Fall and Winter months, but many experience SAD during the opposite seasons. An estimated 10 million Americans experience this kind of depression, with many more experiencing more mild SAD symptoms.
As we enter this change of season, it is important to recognize the symptoms, causes, and possible treatments of SAD as we pursue health for ourselves, but also as we learn to walk well with others on their own journey.
Although symptoms can vary, the following are the most frequent symptoms associated with SAD as listed on the Mayo Clinic website.
Tiredness or low energy
Problems getting along with other people
Hypersensitivity to rejection
Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Symptoms of SAD occur about the same time every year and, in order to be diagnosed, other obvious seasonal stressors cannot be directly related.
There is actually no known cause for SAD, but many believe it is related to the amount of melatonin produced in the body. Melatonin is released to regulate sleep, but more is produced during the darker months. It is possible the increase in melatonin causes some individuals to feel fatigued and lethargic.
Others believe SAD is caused by irregular levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that moderates mood. Vitamin D, which research suggests plays a role in serotonin levels, is connected to the sun. Individuals with SAD may produce less Vitamin D, and the change in sunlight may exacerbate this issue.
Typically, treatment approaches that decrease symptoms of SAD include counseling, Vitamin D supplements, and antidepressant medication. If you believe you may have SAD, you can talk with your doctor about treatment options.
It’s extremely important to take care of yourself year-round, especially if you experience SAD. As you seek out treatment options, focus also on the below self-care suggestions.
Monitor your mood and energy levels to identify any changes or shifts.
Take advantage of available sunlight. Going on walks and soaking in sunshine, even when the weather is cold, can be extremely helpful.
Exercise regularly to maintain physical activity.
Plan fun events or activities during the months you experience SAD.
If you begin experiencing SAD symptoms, seek help.
WALKING WITH OTHERS
Even if you don’t experience SAD during certain months, you may have friends or family that do. Some may happily tell you about their experiences, while others may be unsure of how to share. Below are some tips on how to walk with them in a way that honors and loves them.
Be honest and express your concerns (gently) if you think a loved one may be showing SAD symptoms. Do not ignore them out of discomfort or uncertainty on how to help, but rather let them know they are seen and loved.
If they trust you by letting you in, honor their trust by validating their experiences. Be a good listener and a gracious question asker, not a “fixer” or a “teller”.
Follow their lead. They are the expert on their experiences and it’s important to respect what they need.
Be present with them. This may mean offering to drive them to their counselor if they are scared to go alone, or sending an occasional text letting them know you’re thinking of them. Again, ask them what they need and be consistent.
WHERE IS JESUS?
Seasons teach us a lot about who Jesus is. He is a constant, present, pursuer of our hearts. He is present in the joy of the summer, the change of the fall, the bitterness of the winter, and the newness of the spring. No matter how tumultuous our life may seem, He is a faithful constant.
Let’s honor the season we are in; whether physical or spiritual or emotional.
Let’s also honor the seasons of others by being good listeners, gentle question askers, and present friends.
“I don’t know where you are these days, what’s broken down and what’s beautiful in your life this season. I don’t know if this is a season of sweetness or one of sadness. But I’m learning that neither last forever. There will, I’m sure, be something that invades this current loveliness. That’s how life is. It won’t be sweet forever. But it won’t be bitter forever either. If everywhere you look these days, it’s wintery, desolate, lonely, practice believing in springtime. It always, always comes, even though on days like today it’s nearly impossible to imagine, ground frozen, trees bare and spiky. New life will spring from this same ground. This season will end, and something entirely new will follow it.”
― Shauna Niequist
Bio: Debralyn Bryant was born and raised in the Chicagoland area and graduated from Moody Bible Institute with her Bachelors degree in Pre-Counseling. She is continuing her pursuit of clinical license through Moody Theological Seminary, where she plans to earn her Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling shortly. As she pursues the field of counseling, she continues to grow in her desire to walk with people as they discover their strengths, embrace their emotions, and navigate pain. Follow Debralyn on her blog.